Dr. Cathy Arnold, University of Saskatchewan
Can you describe your area of research and how it is helping address a health-related issue in Saskatchewan?
I have been investigating the prevention of falls for older adults the past 25 years. My recent projects have focused on evaluating exercise and education interventions, studying methods of measuring risk, the reasons injuries occur, and how to move research about fall prevention into practice. I am a licensed physical therapist, and my research has always been rooted by and connected to clinical practice and community relationships. Falls are the leading cause of injury hospitalization for older adults in our province. Finding ways to reduce risk of falling and mitigating the serious injuries can help to improve quality of life, support aging in place and reduce health care costs. The research findings from our recent studies have helped to inform community exercise programs, initiated new programming, and provide guidance to health care providers and community organizations to support fall prevention efforts. We have recently produced 13 videos widely disseminated provincially and nationally to inform practice.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
The connection with the community, hands down. The individuals and groups I have connected with are what has inspired me, provided the questions that are important to be answered, and kept me humble to keep it real, practical and applicable. I am grateful for the support of the older adults who have participated in our studies, the community organizations so willing to support, the health care providers and health care leaders who are passionate and willing to work together, and the granting agencies supporting the research.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Finding grants, applying for grants, and being successful with grants. Publishing results has also become increasingly challenging to navigate appropriate journals, work through varying complex submission guidelines, and to find affordable publishing platforms open to those who need the information.
How did you first become interested in this area of research? What inspires you to do the work that you do?
I worked as a physical therapist for 13 years before returning to school to complete my graduate training. I worked in both acute care and private care settings, and quickly became known as the therapist interested in working with older adults. One of my “aha moments” where I saw my future as a researcher was when one of my clients, diagnosed with osteoporosis, said to me “My doctor told me I should not do yoga, but it has been my passion and comfort for 10 years. I am at loss.. what do you recommend I do?”. In a quest to help, I searched to find the rationale to support, and to my dismay, found conflicting and inconclusive evidence. My clinical experience and questions from my clients really nudged me into the realm of research.
Where is your research headed in the next five years?
I think the future for fall prevention right now is in the implementation and translation of knowledge into practice. I am trying to understand what some of the challenges and barriers are to move evidence forward and to take a more preventative approach to reduce the risk of death and serious injuries before they happen. National statistics are showing that the hospitalization rates for fall injuries are not going down, in fact they are increasing. The prediction is that close to 1/3 of our population will be aged 65 years or older by 2068. The evidence is pretty clear and sound that we know what to do to prevent injury hospitalizations, we just need to figure out how to put it in place in a sustainable way. I worry with the ongoing pandemic, and aftermath of trying to recover a Saskatchewan health care system not just working in crisis mode, that we will lose the momentum and people needed to focus on primary health care and prevention efforts.
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